By now, everyone who wants to know about the vote on Women’s Ordination in San Antonio knows. If anyone who reads my blogs does not yet know, I support WO for three reasons.

First, the Old Testament system of priests and sacrifices passed away. We have one Priest and one Sacrifice: Jesus. So long explanations about qualifications for the priesthood are simply irrelevant.

Second, in our history as a church, we initiated ordination as a means of identifying which preachers claiming to be SDA’s did in fact represent our beliefs accurately. The rest were afterthoughts. We invented this process; we can change it.

Third, there is no indication that spiritual gifts are limited by sex; on the contrary, it is quite clear they are distributed as the Spirit determines, without regard to sex. If the Spirit gifts a woman with the gift of “pastor and teacher,” (see Eph. 4), we deny that gift to our detriment.

With that out of the way, let me address what I see as the real problems which led to the showdown at the Alamodome.

The reason that we’re arguing about this in the first place is we have ceased to be a Movement and have become an Institution. Movements have an identity, a goal, and a purpose. Whatever and whoever fulfills that identity, and helps move toward the goal will be welcomed, because the end toward which we labor takes precedence. Will some new approach help? Wonderful! Are there tried and true methods that still work? Great! Can this woman or that child or the other graybeard be effective? Bring ’em on!

During WWII, women took over numerous roles previously reserved for men. The mission of defeating the totalitarian powers and securing liberty swept aside traditional roles and objections.

When we are clear on our identity and mission again, we won’t care if the prophet is male or female, old or young. We will only care that we are achieving our purpose.

To mix metaphors: So long as we don’t know where the ship is going, we will argue over accommodations. When our destination is again clear, we will direct our efforts to reaching it.

But the whole process revealed something even more troubling, or, more accurately, something deeply disturbing about our current sense of identity.

The nearly 2,600 delegates to the General Conference are entrusted with a serious responsibility. They determine for the global church what they believe God’s will is. This does not mean they are infallible, far from it. But it means their decisions, for good or for ill, will have far-reaching, perhaps eternal, consequences. We would hope that these delegates represent the best we have to offer as a church.

Here’s what worries me. Not that the decision made differs from my own evaluation. In a church of 18 million members, and something approaching 30 million adherents, disagreements are inevitable and necessary. What bothers me is that when the vote was announced, applause broke out. Mike Ryan, in the chair, had to insist that they stop. Observing the debate on both sides, both at the GC and online generally, I have little doubt that whichever side prevailed, applause would have broken out. And I see much the same spirit from most discussing this online. Understandable, perhaps.

But imagine yourself, passionately committed to one side or the other on this debate. You hear that your side has not prevailed. You feel deep disappointment, in some cases approaching despair, because of those who will be hurt, or perhaps even lost eternally because of what you see as a mistaken decision. At this moment, applause and cheering breaks out from those who opposed you. How do you feel? Many, no doubt, would feel a deep sense of alienation, of no longer belonging.

And the best and the brightest, those chosen to represent the church at the highest level and in the most solemn of roles, did not think about how their defeated brethren might react. Too many demonstrated a total lack of empathy. Or they did not care. But I prefer to believe them thoughtless rather than indifferent. Either way this is a problem.

Why did those charged with this solemn duty, fail to think of their wounded brethren? I believe it’s because of a mistaken view of our identity. If our identity is about theological truth, then our theology must prevail, must be vindicated. When those who oppose truth are vanquished, it is an occasion for celebration. Salvation then becomes a matter of theological accuracy. In my experience, we often present our beliefs this way, and many are converted to this point of view.

If, however, our identity is about helping people develop a saving relationship with Christ, and if we are to reflect the character of Christ in our relationships, then how we treat people, especially erring people, matters most.

This lack of empathy, at the highest levels, troubles me. It tells me we have a problem deeper and more difficult to deal with than theological heterodoxy. If we have no empathy for our own fell0w-believers, fail to understand how they think and feel in such a public issues, how can we hope to have empathy for the lost; for those whose lives and choices are so different than our own? It begins to explain why we lose so many of our young adults: we don’t understand their concerns, and we don’t care.

I see that many who favored WO are deeply disappointed. There is much talk of the “church leaving me.” I encourage everyone, on every side of the issue, to ask this question: Is this the kind of church I want to be a part of? And if the answer is “No,” then what can I do to change that? What can I do to transform this church into one that more closely reflects the character of Christ?

It’s easy to leave. I did that myself for 14 months. But where will one go? People–erring, selfish people–are everywhere, even in the mirror. If the church has people in it, they will be such people. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? The church is broken people, slowly becoming whole. That’s where the hard work is, where the real work is. I wasn’t called to San Antonio this July. But I am called to those in my family, my congregation. That’s where I must start. Will you join me?

Read other posts from this series on Adventist Identity.